Are we all artists?


Are we artists

Most of us, when asked, “are you an artist?” would be hesitant to answer with an unqualified “yes.”    After all, that label applies to the great ones:  Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Cassatt, Picasso, Monet, O’Keeffe and the list goes on. How can we dare compare ourselves to that brilliant assembly?

That was the question that I have been asking myself these past few months.   How do we define art, talent, beauty, if we do not have some form of art within ourselves? The definition of “artist” covers a huge area, the essence being “a person who creates art.” Five simple words that do not include any measurement systems.  An artist is an artist simply because he or she creates.

Happy Birthday, John Singer Sargent

Mrs J.W. Crombie, 1898

If you are one of those who enjoy statistical probabilities, then you would agree with me that John Singer Sargent has a high likelihood of appearing in an art gallery.  This was my thought when I entered the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland.  I was not disappointed.

Mrs. J. W. Crombie, an oil on canvas, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1898, radiated grace and elegance.  The notation to the side read “Sargent has caught the serious gaze of the young woman and at the same time has emphasised her femininity. His later portraits, such as this one, display his apparently effortless virtuosity. The dashing brushstrokes, particularly evident in the sparkling rings and brooches and in her feather boa, seem entirely spontaneous.”

I was immediately drawn to this young women who had lived at the turn of the 20th  century.  Her name was Minna (Marina) Watson.  Her husband, John William Crombie, came from a family of woollen manufacturers.  A respected poet and folklorist, he gave up his career as a Director of J. & J Crombie, Ltd, to become a Liberal Party politician. They had two children, a son and daughter.

The painting was completed during the first years of marriage.  John Singer Sargent captured the optimism and determination of youth.  There was also a foreshadowing of strength that would sustain her when her husband died a mere ten years later in 1908.    Their son Eugene, a Captain in the Gordon Highlanders and a WWI war poet, was killed in 1917. With his passing, Mrs. J.W. Crombie learned braille and worked tirelessly to translate many books for the visually impaired.  She was distinguished for her philanthropic endeavours.

Cultivate an ever continuous power of observation. Wherever you are, be always ready to make slight notes of postures, groups and incidents. Store up in the mind… a continuous stream of observations from which to make selections later. Above all things get abroad, see the sunlight and everything that is to be seen.”

John Singer Sargent

Walking With History

Bagpipe in a Window

“Twelve Highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion.”

Scottish Proverb

I always imagined that the bagpipes were invented deep within the misty highlands of Scotland, a gift of the Celtic people to the rest of the world. But that is not so.  Bagpipes are an ancient instrument dating as far back as Egyptian civilizations.  Over the centuries they have had many iterations, originating from prehistoric reeded pipes. They are found in all parts of the world, and in many presentations.  A reliable source told me that Nero did not play a fiddle when Rome burned.  If indeed, he was playing an instrument, it would have been the bagpipes.  Suetonius was quite clear that Nero played the bagpipes, which is confirmed by Roman coins that depict the notorious emperor with his bagpipes, known at that time as “tibia utricularis.”   Some say that the bagpipe was used by the Roman army, which suggests the possibility that the bagpipe came first to England by way of the Roman conquest. By the 14th century, Scots had embraced the bagpipes.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s thick-set, rascally Miller, who wore a sword by his side, was a bagpiper.  It was the Miller who led the company out-of-town and on their pilgrimage.

And yet he hadde a thombe of gold, pardee.
A whit cote and a blew hood wered he.
A baggepipe wel koude he blowe and sowne,
And therwithal he broghte us out of towne.

The bagpipe continues to lead the way, whether a festive parade, a formal gathering, or a funeral.  The music brings the ancient and modern traditions together.  When we follow the pipes we are walking with history.

Happy St. Andrews Day!

Happy St. Andrew's Day


Today is St. Andrew’s Day!  Scotland is celebrating their patron saint. The bagpipers will be out in force, along with the haggis and tartans.  And not only in Scotland.  According to the official St. Andrew’s Day website, there are over 50 million people (of which I am one) around the world that claim Scottish descent.

St. Andrew’s narrative has come down through the centuries, well beyond the lifespan of a Galilean fisherman, a disciple of Jesus Christ and the brother of Saint Peter, founder of the Church.  Martyred for his faith, his bones travelled from Greece to Constantinople to their final resting place at Amalfi in southern Italy.  St. Andrew came to Scotland by way of a Greek monk, St. Rule (Regulus in Latin) who was given the vision of transporting a few of St. Andrew’s relics (a tooth, a kneecap, arm and finger bones) to the “ends of the earth,” which happened to be the coast of Fife, and the present day town of St. Andrews.

In 832 AD, a Pictish king, is said to have had a vision the night before a battle; the next day, a Saltire, an x-shaped cross, appeared in the sky above the battlefield.  Not surprisingly, the Picts met with success.  As time went on, the Saltire, the Saint Andrew’s Cross, was adopted as the national emblem and flag of the Scots.  And in 1320, amidst political intrigue, St. Andrew was officially recognized as a patron saint of Scotland.

The St. Andrew’s Day celebration has become global, with Google marking the day with a Flying Scotsman Doodle.  It seems, however, that St. Andrew generated international interest from the beginning.  He is the patron saint of Greece, Russia, Romania and Barbados.

Even today, St. Andrew’s story continues to evolve as we look forward to 2015.

Happy St. Andrews Day!

Following the Bagpipes…

Scottish HighlandsI have been in the Scottish Highlands for the past few weeks following the call of the bagpipes.   Bagpipes and the Highlands appeal to our longing for open spaces where the abundance of purple heather grows generously in the moorland, glens and hills.  Above it all, the lone bagpiper can be heard from far away reminding us of a time long ago.

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “The mark of a Scot of all classes [is that] he … remembers and cherishes the memory of his forebears, good or bad; and there burns alive in him a sense of identity with the dead even to the twentieth generation.”  Perhaps he is right.  Scotland Homecoming 2014 welcomed Scots from all over the world to celebrate all things Scottish.   The festivities were still in full swing when we left.

The stories are held in the music, art and literature.  So I’ll be following the bagpipes in the next series of post.

For those who are on Instagram, please join me here.  For those who are interested in my daily photo blog, join me here.